Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 14, 1996 Form


In the Sept. 16 issue of The Gazette we reported on Near Eastern studies professor Raymond Westbrook's efforts to bring together 15 diplomats and international scholars from different academic concentrations using different research methodologies to discuss the meaning of the Amarna Letters, the 14th-century B.C.E. diplomatic correspondence and writings of the Egyptian court. They met in Bellagio, Italy, last month. Editorial intern Stacey Patton reports on how it went:

"Being at the Rockefeller Foundation [in Bellagio] was like being in an ivory tower in a garden," Westbrook said. The atmosphere, he said, offered the scholars a sense of tranquillity and freedom from distraction and disturbance so they could best reflect upon their topic of discussion.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "The best truth is manifested in and discovered through dialogue." The dialogue of this conference proved that differences can be brought together to teach both sides.

"Before the conference we in Near Eastern studies were roaming around in the dark. We had no real understanding about Egyptian imperialism. There was total confusion. With the help of political scientists we now know how Egyptian imperialism worked," Westbrook said.

As anticipated, the quality of written papers presented was first rate, Westbrook said. And the depth of subsequent discussions across disciplines and the cross-fertilizing effect on the interdisciplinary encounter, exceeded all expectations, he added. The horizons of the participants were broadened by the mere fact of the conference.

"The Near Easterners taught text, the political scientists taught methodology and the diplomats taught anecdotes. When we put the three together we got a nice sort of alphabet soup," Westbrook said, adding that this conference helped political scientists, Near Easterners and diplomats to engage in conversation in order to discover ways to contribute to world peace.

"This is the first link in the chain that will lead to peace-making initiatives," he said.

Westbrook plans to incorporate much of what he learned from the conference into his curriculum next semester. The Johns Hopkins University Press is expected to publish a volume of the prepared essays, a volume Westbrook hopes will complement the translation of the Amarna archives published by the Press in 1992.

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